"The Late George Apley" (1947) aired Sunday morning at 10 am on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). It's out of print on video, but if you missed it this past weekend TCM will replay it every so often.
In "The Late George Apley" we join the title character, played by Ronald Colman, in the Boston of 1912. Nothing better illuminates the passing of this old world than the glowing Grape Nuts sign which soon flashes over Beacon Street. Middle-aged George Apley, member of a Bostonian family dating back several generations, is in the process of finding himself through Emerson, Freud, and especially the romantic desires of daughter Ellie (Peggy Cummins) and son John (Richard Ney), as each pursue relationships far from ideal to their father.
George Apley is both old Boston and old money. We learn of his background through his meeting with Julian H. Dole, father of the Worcester girl with whom son John has fallen in love--Grandfather Apley oversaw the Boston end of a triangle trading in rum for slaves, which were in turn traded for molasses, which headed back up to Boston to make more rum. This mention is casual, exchanged in banter which even caught George Apley off-guard, but it effectively erased the dignity of "old money."
Apparently the triangle was profitable enough to sustain George all these years later, as rather than be seen working he spends his days overseeing the flow of life in Boston from his Tuesday afternoon club, Waif Society Meetings, Wednesday evening club, and his favorite, a bird watchers club. Tradition is clung to. For example, rather than trimming his grandmother's rubber tree plant, George Apley considers raising the ceiling to allow it to grow as this was what was done the last time the plant threatened to sprout through the roof.
While it's admirable that he doesn't wish to suffocate growth, raising the roof would in effect contain it. George might be able to have it both ways in the conservatory, but similar attitudes are conflicting when it comes to what he wishes for his children.
George is not at all happy that John has fallen for a Worcester girl, nor that Ellie is in love with a transplanted New Yorker who teaches the Harvard students that George's beloved Emerson was actually an early Boston radical. No, George Apley prefers that his children fall in love with fellow Bostonians of similar family and status. John, for example, is foiling what appears to be a more or less arranged marriage with George's cousin Agnes (Vanessa Brown) through his Worcester dalliances. Ellie not only engages in embarrassing snowball fights with her New York professor in full public view, but is also caught kissing the young man by her father.
All in all, George is seeing a lot of behavior that he considers radical, at least by Boston standards.
But George Apley wasn't always so bound to tradition. When John breaks the news to Agnes about his Worcester girl at Agnes's own coming out party, it's George's wife, Catherine (Edna Best), who tells Agnes of George's own first love. It wasn't Catherine but a girl considered inappropriate by George's father in a situation very similar to John's. George was cured when his father sent him abroad putting time and space between he and his sweetheart. When George returned he married Catherine as had long been planned. Catherine explains to Agnes that John is so much like his father that she need not worry about him eventually coming to his senses.
Down to earth brother-in-law Roger Newcombe (Percy Waram) offers another glimpse to George's past. It was Roger who kept George company when he was sent abroad, and so there is nobody more qualified to let George know he's crossing a line with his interference. Even old Boston is tiring of George Apley's formerly proper behavior, as some of the actions he's taken have cost him the presidency of the bird watchers club. Roger tries to remind George of what he was like before his own father tamed him.
So then, who is George Apley? Is he old Boston, bound by tradition, or is he a man who can remember enough of his own stifled past to allow his children to follow their own hearts?
Ronald Colman is perfect as George Apley, bringing his usual touch of class to a role which demands it, but at the same time reeling it back some to express Apley's conflict. Twice Colman's Apley wonders aloud about his having forgotten who he truly is, though what's striking is that the answer is different each time. This confusion makes for an interesting predicament because Colman, and presumably Apley, is in his mid-50's by this time, an age where you'd expect him to be very set in his ways. It's the honesty Colman brings to Apley's conflict which keeps George Apley sympathetic despite being a stuff shirt a good deal of the time. It's Colman's performance which keeps the viewer confident that Apley will do the right thing in the end.
A 20th Century Fox Film, "The Late George Apley" is based on a John Marquand and George S. Kaufman play adapted from Marquand's novel of the same title. Joseph L. Mankiewicz directs a polite but enjoyable comedy.
An excellent film about an earlier time and old money providing the viewer with some fantasy through the unfamiliarity of the setting yet at the same time familiarity through emotion. Ronald Colman dominates in the title role as he does the Apley household.
Featured collectibles: Ronald Colman is shown at the top right of the page in color on a large 4.5" X 6.25 card issued by Nestle's in the UK in about 1936 or '37. He's also shown at the left, this time in black and white, on a 1939 R.J. Lea "Famous Film Stars" tobacco card, also from England. Finally, Edna Best, who plays George Apley's wife, Catherine, is shown on a 1939 Gallaher "My Favourite Part" tobacco card, also a British issue.
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